The Productive Life

Lesson 6/17 - Beating Procrastination


The Productive Life


Lesson Info

Beating Procrastination

The third idea. Beating procrastination. Procrastination is a fascinating psychological concept, because on that psychological level, procrastination is a breakdown of our intentions. When we procrastinate, we kinda kick our intention down the street like a tin can or something similar. (laughs) And to share a quick story about procrastination, I wanna take you back to the middle of the productivity project. And it was the week of October 13th. Twenty hundred and 13. I had just wrapped up an experiment to watch, I think it was 296 TED talks over the course of one week. So 90 hours of TED talks over the course of the week to play around with things like information retention, and taking breaks, and things like that. And no organization other than TED wanted to interview me for their blog. It was a major coup. Like at this point in the project, it was just a few months in, nobody read it. And it was a blog at the time, I think my family read it, and a few people outside of that family ci...

rcle, but beside that not many people read it. So this would've put me on the map. And I can still remember the opening line of this interview to this day. I don't even have to look at the monitor down here or the screen back here to share it. And they said, Chris Bailey, that's me, might be the most productive man you would ever hope to meet. What a great quote. And I continue to milk this line to this day. (laughter) You'll see at the back of the book, you know, this is 2013, we'll see if it's on the next book. It probably will be. But we'll see. (woman speaks unintelligibly) Yeah, the interview, the talk, yeah, it was an exciting chance. But this same week, I was ashamed to admit it at the time, I still haven't written about this experiment on my blog. I tracked my time. And I found this week that I spent a good amount of time doing reading and research, 19 hours doing reading and research this week. 16 and a half hours writing, which was pretty productive. Four hours interviewing people and being interviewed. Eight and a half hours doing maintenance tasks, but finally, (inhales) I also found that I did a lot of busy work that week. I spent six hours procrastinating on what I had intended to accomplish. And so I kinda like, kicked that experiment under the rug for a little bit, but I fessed up in the book. And obviously in this course. So I started talking to procrastination researchers, 'cause I thought, is this phenomenon unique to me? Or is this something that we all do? And something that one of the researchers, I think it was Tim Pychyl from Carleton University in Ottawa said to me. He said something that put me totally at ease, and put a thousand pounds of weight off of my shoulders. And he told me that everybody procrastinates. Procrastination is human. Piers Steel is another procrastination researcher whom I love, and he found, he surveyed a ton of people. And he found that 99 out of 100 of them admitted to procrastinating on something. And the other one person is probably just lying through their teeth, because this idea is so human. And so, I have a quick thing to ask you. You can blurt it out, you can put your hand up or whatever, but I wanna ask you, what is the ugliest, most aversive thing that you're putting off right now? This is like, a procrastination confessional. Just shout it out. I have a project I've been working on for the last couple months that's still, like I don't give it enough time, and it's been building up enough to the point where I kinda feel bad about it. Yeah, that resistance is growing. Everybody's probably got something. Yeah, so I committed to a 200 hour yoga teacher training, and every week we have homework. Like a ton of homework. And I've been putting off my homework. Oh, man. I know. (laughs) I can see why, though. Probably averse. Mine is just cleaning closets. I need to do it, but I just keep like, maybe next weekend. Yeah, maybe next week, yeah. Next weekend, our future self to do. Anybody got one more? Yeah? I'm working on a synopsis, so I need to write that. I don't know why I'm not doing it. (laughs) I'll tell you why. Yeah, tell me. Well, it turns out, 'cause I got so curious after this experiment, it turns out that there are certain attributes that a task can have that make us more likely to put if off. And there's seven of them. Here they are. We are more likely to procrastinate on something when it's boring. When it's frustrating. When it is difficult. When it lacks personal meaning, so we can't connect to it. Whether it lacks intrinsic rewards. So we don't find the process of doing it rewarding. When it's ambiguous and so we're not sure how to do it, like writing a synopsis. Cleaning a closet. Nobody gives you a plan for cleaning your closet. Except maybe that Mary Kondo lady, the life changing magic, or whatever. It's unstructured. And so the more of these, essentially triggers that a task has, the more likely we are to put it off. And so you can take something like, writing a synopsis, or one that invariably comes up is paperwork, or taxes, or something financial or budget related. And you can run down the list, this is my personal thing that I'm putting off right now. It's boring, it's frustrating, it's difficult. There's no meaning in giving money to the government. It's kinda neutral. Maybe there is. Maybe you're a patriotic, I don't know. It's kinda neutral on intrinsic rewards. Because you know, sometimes we get the piece of software where your refund ticks up as you go along. And you say, oh, I'm getting like $300 back. Oh, now I'm getting $500, I can buy an iPad, and then the amount just keeps going up, it's fantastic. But its definitely ambiguous, it's definitely unstructured, this is why the half a trillion dollar tax preparation industry exists in the United States. Because it sets off these triggers. You know, yoga training, it probably has quite a few of these. 200 hours? That's a lot of practice. I could see that being frustrating, and difficult. The three daily tasks that you defined, whether it's today, whether it's this week, chances are they set off a good number of triggers also. Right? This is why we get paid big bucks to do the work that we do, because we chase what's aversive. Right? We don't get paid to do the support tasks in our work. We get paid to do what's vital to it, every day, and in general. Watching Netflix? (laughs) It probably lacks personal meaning. Unless you're watching, maybe a nature documentary or something like that, but this is why it's so easy, it's so structured that it starts playing the next episode of a show before you're done watching the current episode of a show. I wouldn't know this, obviously, as a quote unquote, productivity expert, but this is what I hear from people on the street who watch Netflix. So this is why we can tumble into this binge watching hole of essentially watching TV on autopilot mode. But, just as there is a lot of science behind why we procrastinate, there's a lot of science behind how we can stop. And so I wanna give you a few strategies for that. The first is to get in touch with your future self. Your future self is you, but in the future. So, something marvelous would happen if I were to ask you to lie down, and then I were to wheel you into an FMRI brain scanning machine. And ask you to think about yourself in the future, maybe one month from now. And then, ask you to think about a total stranger. Like, Taylor Swift, as an example. The fascinating thing about the two brain scans would be that they would be virtually identical to one another. And so in other words, on a neurological level, we see our future self as a total stranger. This is why we agree to a pointless meeting in the future. This is why we say, I'll do it next weekend, or whatever the excuse might be. Because when we say we're gonna do it next weekend, it's as if we're giving that task to Taylor Swift, to a total stranger. And you know, some of us are a bit tighter with our future self than others, and you can kind of think about where you fall on the spectrum. Maybe you're totally disconnected with yourself in the future. And so this tactic in particular might work better than some of the others. Maybe you're like, super tight with your future self, and so you feel like, oh, you know, if I delay reading this book until next week, it's still gonna be me doing it. If that's something you think, you're probably out of the norm, but this tactic might not fit you as well. But the more disconnected you are, the studies show that you actually save less money for retirement. There was one fascinating study where they asked people to come into a computer animation lab. And they had somebody sit in front of a screen, and they showed them a live video of themselves, but aged like 30 or 40 years down the future. And what they found afterwards when they asked that person to allocate a thousand dollars for themselves in the present, and for their future self for retirement, is the people who were in that condition, where they saw their future self, saved two to three times as much. 'Cause they were tighter with themselves in the future. You know, we're more likely to put off work because we're giving it to a total stranger. We agree to pointless meetings, far off in the future. Like, sure, Chris, I'd love to grab coffee with you in a month. (laughter) No, I'm just kidding, I actually would. You know, we build up this list of classic books that we're quote unquote, bound to read someday. If you ever come to my office, there is, you know, people who visit my office are kinda freaked out, because there's a picture of me on my filing cabinet that looks something like this. (laughter) And you can see, from afar, it kinda looks like me, but you get closer, and so you walk in and you think, man, this guy is so egotistical. He has a picture of himself on his filing cabinet. But then you get closer and you think, oh, man, I gotta leave. What's happening here? But this is me, aged 30 or 40 years in the future, with an app called Aging Booth. This is an app that I recommend everybody download. And it's the weirdest app. You just take a self portrait, I hate the word selfie, you take a self portrait, and it shows you, it speeds up time. And this allows you to connect with your future self. It's a simple idea, but it works. Another idea. Is to write a letter to your future self. You know, maybe 20, 30 years down the line where you've made the changes, you've saved for retirement, you wrote the synopsis which led to the project, you cleaned your closets which maybe allowed you to sell your house, you know whatever it might be. Or you made the changes that you're procrastinating on to get in touch with that future self. The third idea is to consider a different future. So consider two paths that branch out from the present. You know, maybe one where you ate the funnel cake. Which, leads you to have some other bad sugar habits and ate less poorly, and the other where you said no to dessert and you made a bunch of healthy decisions, whatever it might be. Consider an alternate path for yourself. So, that's the first idea for overcoming procrastination. And by the way, I'll throw a few ideas at you here. Take that ones that work for you and leave the rest. You know, one or two of these might resonate more. The second one especially so I think. And it's to list the costs of procrastinating on something. Now I'm a big fan of neuroscience, you know, looking at the actual research, because that's really the foundation of productivity, is psychology and neuroscience, it's human behavior. And one of the fascinating things about procrastination is that when we procrastinate, we give in to feel good. Right? And there's kind of these two sides of us that go to war with one another over the course of the day. There's the emotional side of us that wants the donut, they wanna watch Netflix, they want to give in to feel good. And then there's the logical part of us that says, no man, you like promised me a six pack by the summer time. Or no, we wanna lose weight, we wanna be productive, we wanna be healthy, and these two sides of us go to war with each other constantly. When we walk by the donuts when we're ordering a coffee and trying to decide whether to get them or whether to just get a coffee. When we're resisting dessert. When we're making these decisions, whether we're deciding to watch another episode of a show, or pick up that classic book that we have wanted to read. And when we procrastinate, the emotional part of us, our limbic system, overcomes that logical part of us, our brain's prefrontal cortex. But when we list the costs of putting something off, the financial costs, the emotional costs, the social costs, the economic costs, the career costs, every single cost, it takes a couple seconds to get started with this, but once we do we fire up that logical part of us and we can overcome that impulse. Procrastination is a purely visceral and emotional reaction to something that we don't wanna do. There is no logic embedded within the idea of procrastination whatsoever. Listing the costs fires up that logical part of us so we can overcome that emotional part. The third idea is a weird one, I'll admit. But it's sometimes essential. And it is to disconnect from the internet. One study conducted by Tim Pychyl, he's one of the most renowned procrastination researchers out there, he found that when we're connected to the internet, we spend a lot of time procrastinating. In fact, we spend 47% of our time on the internet procrastinating of what we had intended to accomplish. It's remarkable. If you do the math, things take twice as long when we're connected to the internet. And so, you know, it's probably not worth working in a disconnected fashion all of the time, but when you find that you're doing something that has all of those triggers, whether it's writing that report, whether it's writing the synopsis, whatever it might be, the weird thing, and we'll talk about distractions in a bit, in an upcoming lesson. The weird thing about procrastination, is that our mind really gravitates to usually the most novel and stimulating thing. You know, in the moment, we almost always wanna pay attention to Facebook, or Twitter, or email, instead of the things that are more productive that we truly want to be doing. And so, disconnecting from the internet eliminates those options entirely so we can focus on what we actually want to do. The fourth idea is to shrink your resistance. And, it's what I was just talking about, is the resistance we have to doing something is almost always stacked at the beginning of a task. And so, it looks something like this, where the first minute of a task is really really rocky. As we're trying to build up the stamina to clean out the closet, but once we get past that point, it's relatively smooth sailing. Once we overcome it, we can keep going for hours. It's like jumping in the pool. A fifth way that disables a bunch of triggers at once is to make a game out of it. Like if you think about the triggers in your head, boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured. It essentially diffuses all of them by saying something like, okay, how many dishes can I clean in five minutes? How much of this closet can I clean in five minutes? Whatever it might be. Then, usually you can go on for much longer after that point. Notice the busywork. We'll talk a little bit about busywork and distractions later on, but that is a good signal that your work is expanding to fit how much time you have available for its completion. And that it might be worth checking yourself before you wreck your productivity. And the final one, is to reward yourself. And it's a simple idea. But when you reward yourself for cleaning the closet, you might say, okay, for every, maybe doing you taxes is another example, for every 10 minutes I work on my taxes, I'll give myself $10 to spend frivolously however I want, on a massage, on a nice meal out, on a nice meal in, on a box of wine, I mean a bottle of wine. (laughter) You know, whatever it might be to have that reward for yourself for overcoming this idea of procrastination. So I decided to conduct this experiment again, and it was when I was in the middle of a project that was particularly aversive. And I'm sure there's a lot of folks who are writers out there who do that sort of creative work. And I did this test on myself when I was writing The Productivity Project. And I found, 17 and a half hours reading and research for that project, 15 hours writing, that's the thing about writing, is you spend more time thinking about it than you actually spend writing about it, five and a half hours in interviews, two and a half hours in maintenance type tasks, and finally. One hour procrastinating. So I didn't eliminate it entirely, but we got it down to a manageable level. Everybody procrastinates, it's human. We do busywork. But the trick, like most of the ideas that I'll cover here, is that awareness. To be aware that you're procrastinating in the first place, to simply notice that fact. So I have another two minute challenge for you. And there's a sheet in the workbook, the procrastination sheet, the one that's next, where it lists five, it has five spaces for things that you're procrastinating on. And so what I want you do do quickly, and this simply gets you started on this, again the resistance is so often stacked at the beginning of us doing something. Is to think of five things that you're putting off, and to list them down. And, we can start the timer now. It's so funny how, I take a lot of courses like this one, and the workbooks are always like blank at the end of it, so when you integrate it in, and I would really encourage, it's so easy when you're watching this online, to switch to another tab, or think, oh, I'll do that later on, or maybe I'll do the next activity, whatever it might be, is to just get started. We got some people sharing in the chat. Oh my. This one is from, gotta pronounce this one right, by Smarcodanado says that they've been putting off their wedding album, I know this happens a lot. They got married, it's been over a year, they haven't put together their wedding album yet. So, that happens. Is this to like share with other people, or for themselves? What is a wedding album? I guess a wedding album, mostly for yourself. Yeah, okay. Other people can look at it when they come over. I can see that setting off a few. Yeah, yeah. Just going through thousands of pictures. Man, that's boring and frustrating. Not frustrating, but yeah. You do get that nice tangible thing at the end. Alright, how'd you guys make out? Did anyone not make it to five? Did anybody not think of five? Everybody else did. The things are usually like readily accessible, it's just kinda plucking them out of your life. And I would encourage you, we don't have time 'cause of the fast pace of this course, to go back and fill out the costs of them. You know, even just thinking about them in this fashion will probably get your mind primed to think on this a bit.

Class Description

The first 100 eligible purchasers of this class will receive 
The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy
Limit one Offer per person. Additional exclusions may apply - visit for full details.

It’s a common refrain: “If I only I had more hours in the day, I’d be able to get everything done.” But since finding more hours isn’t an option, we search for ways to be more productive—to better use our limited time to not only complete our required tasks but also accomplish our loftier goals.

Chris Bailey, author of “The Productivity Project,” spent a year of his life conducting productivity experiments on himself in order to discover the secrets to living the most productive life possible. He’ll share his most insightful lessons on how to work deliberately rather than reactively, manage your energy better, avoid excessive procrastination and have more time to do what you find meaningful in life.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Slow down and work more deliberately.
  • Shrink or eliminate the unimportant from your life.
  • Focus on your highest-leverage tasks that give you the greatest return.
  • Schedule less time for important tasks.
  • Distract yourself from inevitable distractions.
  • Develop productive procrastination.
  • Use a healthy diet, sleep and exercise to be more productive.
  • Strive for imperfection.
  • Form good habits so your productivity is automatic.
  • Motivate yourself by understanding why you want to get something done.


Michael Duskus

I wasn't sure what to expect from this course, but I was happily surprised to learn very useful, practical approaches to being more productive in all aspects of my life. Chris's approach to dealing with time and productivity challenges we all face daily are simple to comprehend — and with a little discipline, easy to implement. I'm looking forward to reading his book, too. Additionally, the team at Creative Live are so great and make the experience memorable; from their smiles, warm greetings and professionalism to the great food provided, they know how to bring out the good vibes in everyone. We're definitely looking forward to attending more classes!

Helen Leung

I found Chris' book very useful, full of great ideas that are easy to implement, and totally fun to read. This seminar is the same: inspiring, practical, and very enjoyable. The productivity ideas that he introduced are crucial for reducing stress and enjoying our work and personal life more. Highly recommended!


A fantastic class that will NOT teach you how to be more productive in creating to-do-lists and completing as many tasks as you can, but will explain how to make right priorities and choices and how achieve what you want in a more efficient matter while having a holistic view of your productivity, including your approach to food, sleep and meditation. The class is packed with actionable tools and techniques and I recommend it to everyone who would like to start working less and achieve more. The teacher - Chris - has a great personality - he's very likable and relatable - and he delivers the message in a manner that makes it very easy to understand and act upon the message.